MIAMI -- Defensive end Trevor Scott logged his first start of the 2012 season in the Patriots’ 23-16 victory over the Dolphins, pressed into duty because of the absences of rookie Chandler Jones and top backup Jermaine Cunningham.
He was one of the star performers of the day, finishing with two sacks, one of which forced a fumble that led to a second-quarter field goal.
“I was definitely excited for the opportunity and tried to make the most of it,” said Scott, the fifth-year veteran who lined up mostly on the left side and beat backup right tackle Nate Garner for the strip sack by turning a strong corner. “It feels good to go out and make plays to help my teammates. There is no better feeling than that.”
The 28-year-old Scott is the latest Patriots player to ensure that Bill Belichick’s “next-man-up” philosophy comes to life. When there’s a big injury, Belichick’s expectation is that the next player on the depth chart steps in to fill the void with little drop-off.
To fill the void without Jones and Cunningham, the Patriots actually used three players Sunday -- Scott and rookie Justin Francis at left end on early downs, with rookie Jake Bequette coming on in sub situations as an interior rusher. Scott played the most of the three.
“We have a lot of different looks that we can use and we have a lot of different people playing different positions, and you’re expected to play well and make plays,” said Scott, who had played just 14 percent of the defensive snaps entering the game.
This wasn’t always the plan with Scott.
At the start of training camp, he was running with the first unit, but ultimately slipped down the depth chart when Jones -- the team’s top draft choice -- emerged quicker than many anticipated. Signed to a one-year contract in the offseason, his presence on the roster was viewed similarly to the Patriots’ 2011 signing of Mark Anderson, who was most effective as a nickel rusher.
But Jones’ early-career excellence limited Scott’s opportunities. Scott knew at some point that his number would be called more on defense, so he stayed ready.
“My biggest thing is patience. I go about it the same way one week as I do the other,” he said. “There’s one thing I’m never going to stop doing and that’s working hard -- on the field and off the field.”
Scott, who entered the league with the Raiders as a sixth-round draft choice out of the University of Buffalo in 2008, had 7.5 sacks in his second NFL season. At the time, he was viewed by some as a promising young pass-rusher, but he couldn’t build on the momentum after tearing his ACL the following year. With the Raiders bringing in a new regime in 2012, Scott wasn’t re-signed and the Patriots pounced.
Two years removed from the injury, he feels as good as ever.
“I feel strong, I feel quick, and I’m playing out there and not thinking about my knee,” said Scott, acknowledging that his health is in a better place than it was in the 2011 season.